Breathing exercises are one of the most effective natural remedies for high blood pressure. Breathing exercises tap into your body’s own control systems, stimulating blood pressure receptors in the chest wall and activating nerve reflexes that lower blood pressure, and slow your heart rate. The net result is a significant reduction in high blood pressure. Deep breathing for just one minute can lower a high blood pressure by as much as 9.6/3 mmHg.
Pranayama for high blood pressure
In many eastern philosophies, manipulation of breathing is a standard treatment used to lower a high blood pressure. In Ayurvedic medicine and Hindu yoga, the regulation of breath is known as pranayama. Research confirms that pranayama breathing promotes calm, reduces oxygen consumption, decreases heart rate and lowers blood pressure. Brain waves also change towards the more meditative theta state which is accompanied by feelings of alertness and invigoration.
Here are 6 breathing exercises to try. Find a breathing exercise that suits you and practice it at least once a day for best results. If you feel dizzy or light-headed at any time, then stop for a few minutes and continue more slowly.
Breathing exercise for high blood pressure: 1
This pranayama breathing exercise can be carried out on almost any occasion, without anyone noticing.
- Sit comfortably, with your arms hanging loosely by your sides.
- Breathe in slowly and deeply, and focus on the rise and fall of your abdomen rather than your chest.
- When you have inhaled as far as possible, immediately start to breathe out, emptying your lungs as much as possible.
- Continue breathing in and out in this way, but gradually speed up your inhalations, and slow your exhalations until you spend around 3 seconds breathing in, and 7 seconds breathing out.
Do this for five minutes if you can, or for as long as feels comfortable.
It takes practice to breathe at this slow rate of just six breaths per minute (half the normal rate). Focus on emptying your lungs, and on keeping air flow continuous – don’t hold your breath between inhaling and exhaling.
Breathing exercise for high blood pressure: 2
The most important yogic pranayama breathing exercise is known as dirgha or the three-part breath which helps overcome shallow breathing.
- Sit comfortably in a cross-legged position, with your back straight. Close your eyes and, as you breath in and out, focus on how your rib cage expands and contracts with each breath.
- Start with normal, slow breathing so just your lower rib cage expands and contracts. With each exhalation, allow tension to fall away so your abdomen drops lower.
- Then breathe in more deeply so first the lower, then the middle part of your rib cage expands.
- When you feel ready, breathe in as deeply as you can so first the lower, then the middle, and finally the upper part of your lungs expands so your collar bones rise up.
- Breathe smoothly and rhythmically, so your in-breath and your out-breath take the same amount of time.
- Let all tension flow away with your exhalations.
Do this for five minutes, if you can, or for as long as feels comfortable.
End by sitting quietly, breathing normally, for 10 minutes in quiet contemplation.
Breathing exercise for high blood pressure: 3
The next breathing exercise, known as ujjayi pranayama or ocean breath, improves your focus and promotes a sense of power and control over your blood pressure. You will probably want to do this in privacy as it involves making huffing sounds.
- Sit comfortably, cross-legged on the floor.
- Breathe deeply, in and out through your mouth.
- Now start to make a soft, whispering, haaaaahhhh noise as you breathe out, by slightly constricting the back of your throat – almost as if you want to fog up a window. Do this several times on your out breath.
- Once you are comfortable doing this, start making a similar noise when breathing in so your breathing sounds like the in and out susurrations of the ocean.
- Do this for a few minutes while imagining your blood pressure coming down.
Yoga adepts make this ocean-like noise when breathing in and out of their nose, too, as it is believed to make their postures more powerful and focussed.
Breathing exercise for high blood pressure: 4
The fourth breathing exercise, known as Stage I viloma pranayama – meaning against the natural order – involves interrupted inhalation. This exercise is an introduction to the next pranayama (Stage 2, the interrupted exhalation) which is a key yogic breathing exercise used to treat high blood pressure. As this introductory Stage 1 exercise is more normally used to treat low blood pressure, you do not need to use this exercise again.
This exercise is best performed lying down on your back, arms relaxed by your side in what is known as the Corpse Posture (Savasana).
Lie down quietly with your eyes closed and rest for at least five minutes in quiet contemplation. When you feel ready:
- Breathe in for two to three seconds and pause, holding your breath for two to three seconds.
- Then continue to breathe in for another two to three seconds before pausing again.
- Repeat this until your lungs are full (normally four to five pauses).
- Now breathe out slowly and steadily until your lungs feel empty.
Breathe normally before repeating the interrupted inhalation once more.
Now lie in quiet contemplation for 10 minutes.
Breathing exercise for high blood pressure: 5
The next breathing exercise, Stage II viloma pranayama is an advanced breathing exercise used by Ayurvedic doctors to treat a high blood pressure. Its rhythm is easier to understand once you have tried the previous Stage I introductory exercise.
Lie down quietly in the Savasana Posture, with your eyes closed and rest for at least five minutes in quiet contemplation. When you feel ready:
- Exhale completely until your lungs feel empty, then inhale smoothly until your lungs feel full.
- Now, breathe out slowly for two or three seconds and pause, holding your breath for two to three seconds.
- Exhale further for two to three seconds before pausing again.
- Repeat until your lungs feel empty (usually four to five pauses).
- Breathe in and out normally a few times, then repeat the interrupted exhalation.
Do between five and ten of these interrupted inhalations if you can.
Then lie quietly, breathing normally in quiet contemplation for 10 minutes.
With practice, you can spend 10 minutes alternating interrupted exhalations with three cycles of normal breathing.
Breathing exercise for high blood pressure: 6
Once you have mastered the techniques used in ujjayi pranayama (breathing exercise 3) and viloma pranayama (breathing exercise 5) you can try the more advanced anuloma pranayama or alternative nostril breathing. This alternate promotes quietness and calm is particularly good for people whose high blood pressure is related to stress.
In this breathing exercise you inhale through one nostril, hold your breath, and then exhale through the other nostril. This restores natural balance to your breathing. Exhalation should take twice as long as inhalation.
- Sit comfortably with your back straight (cross-legged on the floor is ideal).
- Place one hand over your lower face so your thumb and index finger can close your nostrils.
- Close your right nostril, and breathe in through your left nostril, slowly and deeply while counting up to 4.
- Close both nostrils with your thumb and fingers, and hold your breath for a count of 16 (or for a shorter count of 3 to 5 if this feels more comfortable at first).
- Now breathe out through your right nostril, counting to 8, while keeping your left nostril closed.
- After the prolonged exhalation, breathe in through the same nostril (the right nostril) for 4 counts, then exhale through the left nostril for 8 counts, keeping the right nostril closed.
Do this cycle twice to being with.
Afterwards, breathe in slowly and deeply, at your own pace, for 10 minutes in quiet contemplation, keeping your mind as empty as possible.
With practice, you can work up to doing the cycle 10 times, and can increase the counts on breathing in from 4 to 5, and then from 5 to 6.
If your blood pressure is raised, self-monitoring is important to maintaining good control.
Click here for advice on choosing a blood pressure monitor to use at home.
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